Euro 2016: Jeff Hendrick underlines his importance

Martin O’Neill says Jon Walters is ‘pretty doubtful’ for game against Belgium

Jeff Hendrick has a shot saved during the Group E Euro 2016 match against Sweden at Stade de France. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters.

Jeff Hendrick has a shot saved during the Group E Euro 2016 match against Sweden at Stade de France. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters.

 

Martin O’Neill says that Jonathan Walters is now “pretty doubtful” for Saturday’s game against Belgium in Bordeaux, with the striker still suffering the after effects of starting against the Swedes while not completely over his Achilles injury.

The 32-year-old admitted afterwards that he had been struggling almost from the outset, and was in serious difficulty by the time he was replaced by James McClean on 64 minutes.

Yet there will be considerable relief within the camp at the way Jeff Hendrick appears to have come through the game unscathed, with the 24-year-old apparently having suffered no ill-effects after a high-energy performance which was probably his best to date in an Ireland jersey.

In Cork a week ago the Derby County midfielder had looked slow and a little unsure of himself against Belarus after missing most of the previous two months with shoulder and then thigh injuries.

Yet at the Stade de France he underlined his importance to the team with a hugely impressive performance.

The midfielder “astonished” with the way he made himself available to others in almost every area, observed French newspaper L’Equipe, saying he had been the team’s most dangerous player over the 90 minutes.

The only disappointment was the lack of a goal, with the bar denying him once when he shot spectacularly from distance and twice by goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson.

The performance confirmed the huge potential that he had repeatedly shown over the qualifiers. His key contributions came against Germany away and Georgia at home when the goals he to set up yielded three points for the side.

Group stage

Though originally capped by Giovanni Trapattoni, his complete integration into the team has been one of the key developments under O’Neill.

Hendrick, having missed the opening game in Georgia, started nine of the remaining 11 matches Ireland played, coming on in Gelsenkirchen where he stunned the world champions in the closing stages with his close control and cross for O’Shea’s equaliser.

Tall, physically strong and with a confident way about him on the pitch, he has progressed well over 211 games for Derby County, and he looks perfectly equipped at this stage for life in the English top flight.

He hinted back in April that if the club failed to get there he might have to go it alone, and he will surely be open to offers this summer.

Whether his marketability this summer is adversely affected by a charge which he denies of violent disorder remains to be seen, although it seems increasingly unlikely.

Certainly if he plays against Belgium and Italy as he did on Monday it is hard to imagine that there will not be interest in him.

His versatility – he can comfortably play in a holding role as well as a more attacking one – is also another significant plus.

In the meantime he is focussed on Ireland and the next few days.

Good performance

“Possibly we could have had three but we have to forget about that now. We got the point, we put in a good performance, and we have got to make sure we are ready for Belgium on Saturday.”

Belgium will now be anxious to bounce back after a hugely disappointing defeat by Italy, one O’Neill watched on Monday night.

“It was one of those games I couldn’t predict, but the idea that Italy are a ‘has-been’ side has been totally negated,” he says. “Italy are a tournament team, we know this from years and years of experience.”

As for Belgium, creative midfielders Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne will miss the next two days of training with injuries before, it is expected, returning for the Ireland game.

O’Neill said: “They’ve got very good players. Belgium have a real set of individual players, it’s whether they go and gel as a side. They have individuals capable of taking you on and beating you, and they play in top-class company every single week.”

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